How Average Driving Distance Has Evolved in Golf Since 1980

How Average Driving Distance Has Evolved in Golf Since 1980
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Bryson DeChambeau has bulked up in 2020 in a bid to further his already impressive drive

There’s a saying in golf that goes: ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’.

The quote is attributed to South African Bobby Locke and it refers to a player's ability to be able to drive the ball accurately off the tee, to give them a chance of carding a birdie or better on long par 5 holes.

Driving is just as important as putting and the top players use their course management skills to land the ball exactly where they want to so they can challenge for titles on a regular basis.

Earlier this month, Bryson DeChambeau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA Tour in Detroit to climb to seventh in the world and he has his Cobra King Speedzone driver to thank for his sixth career victory and his first since November 2018.

The 26-year-old has made major changes to his game so he can be in contention to win a first Major. In the last nine months, the Californian has deliberately put on over three stone in weight in order to become one of the game's most powerful hitters. And it worked a treat in Detroit as he picked up 11 of his 23 shots on the par fives thanks to his powerful hitting off the tee.

DeChambeau currently leads the PGA Tour in distance off the tee with an average of 323.0 yards as golfers search for anything that will give them a competitive edge over their rivals. That is why manufacturers are constantly and continually developing clubs that they hope will help more golfers win Majors.

We've seen a number of famous drivers introduced to the sport over the years such as the 'Pittsburgh Persimmon' in the 1980s, 'Big Bertha' in the 1990s right up to the Cobra range DeChambeau and others currently have in their bags.

DeChambeau Compelling To Watch

It's no surprise then that DeChambeau's odds of landing one of this year's three Majors (The Open Championship has been cancelled due to Covid-19), have been shortened by bookmakers. Striking the ball regularly over 400 yards makes the American compelling to watch and it shows how far golf has come over the years.

In the 1980s, if you hit a drive over 270 yards, you were considered a big-hitter. Only a handful of players including 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus could hit the ball that far.

Nowadays, hitting 270 yards off the tee will get a golfer nowhere near the top of the leaderboard. Satoshi Kodaira is currently ranked 220nd and last on the PGA Tour with an average driving distance of 276.8 yards.


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At the start of the new millennium, John Daly was considered the game's longest hitter with his 'grip it and rip it' attitude which helped him win the PGA Championship in 1991 and the Open in 1995.

'Long John' as Daly was nicknamed, topped the drive distance charts on the PGA Tour for all but one year between 1991 and 2002 when Davis Love III dethroned Daly in 1994 with an average distance of 283.8 yards off the tee.

Daly became the first player to average more than 300 yards off the tee in 1997 with 302.0 yards. Comparing that to today's game, 80 players on the PGA Tour currently average 300 yards or more. Ten years ago, only 12 players averaged 300 yards or more from the tee.

Golf Is Evolving

The advancement in golf clubs and balls has left golf courses no choice but to change with the times.

St Andrew's, the home of golf, has been extended by 371 yards since it hosted the 1964 Open Championship. At Augusta, which remains the only one of the four Majors to be played on the same course every year, has seen its total yards increased from 6,980 in 1970 to 7,475 for last year's tournament which was won by Tiger Woods by a single stroke to claim his fifth 'Green Jacket'.

The longest course on the PGA Tour this year is the South Course at Torrey Pines which hosted the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Australian Marc Leishman won the event and he is one of the 80 players averaging 300 yards or more off the tee.

American Justin Thomas has hit the longest drive on the PGA Tour this year with a 449-yard tee shot on the second hole of his final round in the WGC-Mexico event in February which helped him finish tied for sixth place.

Anyone can hit a monster drive off the tee, especially if there is a strong wind behind them. But to be successful and to be a perennial winner, golfers have to be able to avoid the hazards strategically placed around the course by golf clubs to win back control from the golfers.

The battle between club manufacturers and course designers will continue for many years to come.

The question remains, how many years will it be before the leading golfers are averaging 350 yards off the tee and how soon will it be before we see a 500-yard drive?

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